5 Hidden OSX Gems

As a recent convert to OSX there are many little pieces of functionality that delight me on an almost daily basis. Beyond the pretty UI, excellent (for the most part) usability and the fact that things seem to “just work”, theres a plethora of features that many users will simply not discover. No this list probably isn’t going to be helpful to those of you who are long time OSX users but for recent switchers, and those who don’t usually “explore” their computer, this may very well be helpful.

Save as PDF

OSX has an inbuilt ability to save almost anything as a PDFPrint as PDF option in OSX. The way it does this is by using a PDF print driver and, as such, the option can be found in amongst the print options. The image to the right (click to enlarge) shows the expanded PDF option that can be found in nearly all OSX applications. The reason is that OSX, like Windows, uses a generic print service which other apps simply send data to. This allows for a consistent interface when printing. As part of this consistent interface, you’ll find the option to print as PDF. This means that you can save webpages, office documents and photos as PDF files for easy sharing.

Preview

Preview is one of those apps that you don’t appreciate until you move to an OS that’s without it. It seems to handle every conceivable file you throw at it, from PDFs (see above) to images. Next time your on a Windows system, count how many different apps you need just to open the different types of files preview handles.

Note:  This was written in 2007.  Since then Preview has continued to grow into an extremely powerful tool.  You can read two hidden OSX Preview gems here.

Summarize

This is probably one of the most obscure features of OSX that I use regularly. Called SummarizeSummarized Text of a Web Page, it can be found in the services menu (click the name of the current app in the top left hand corner then choose services and summarize). What this does is create a summary of any text you have selected, and its actually pretty good. Somehow, probably through invoking some voodoo god, it knows how to summarize text. Apparently this is done through a combination of identifying unique, as well as commonly used phrases/words and striking a balance between the themes emphasised through repeating and those that are unique. It works a charm. Click the image on the left to see an example of summarized text from a recent article here, I think you’ll agree that for an automated tool dealing with a fairly complex sample of text (some of it was formatted in an ordered list) its done pretty well. The one thing to bear in mind about summarize though is that its not compatible with every app. FireFox, for example, is not currently aware of the OSX services. Hopefully this will be rectified when we get a proper OSX FireFox build (Note: It wasn’t).

Smart Folders

If you use iTunes then the chances are you use Smart Folders, they are called Smart Playlists. They allow you to create a folder, the contents of which constantly updates based upon rules you set. You can use these for absolutely anything. One of my favourite usages is to Adding a color label to a filecolour code certain files in OSX based upon the level of attention they need, such as red for urgent or green for dealt with. That way I can have an “Urgent” Smart Folder that contains all the items that I deem to require urgent attention. Then, when something comes through my Inbox that needs my attention, I just colour it red and it will get picked up by the Smart Folder. With this being OSX, Spotlight is used so you can utilise the standard operators in addition to the simple options the Smart Folder dialogue provides. There are many other options open to you once you master the impressive Smart Folders, like using OSX’s comments to tag items. It also allows you to classify files in a number of different ways. Say, for example, you keep all your invoices in an invoices folder but you also want to keep them in the project specific folder, then you could have one Smart Folder which contains everything on the project, and one that contains all the invoices. If you adapt this technique I guarantee (Warning, guarantee not valid on this planet) you’ll spend a heck of alot less time organising your files, because, you can essentially just put them anywhere and rely on Smart Folders and Spotlight to pick out the ones you need, when you need them.

Snippets

I’m not sure what else to call this but I use it nearly every day. Put simply, it allows you to quickly grab pieces of information from all over the place and very easily save it to your machine. Not I’m not talking about something as advanced as grep or curl here, its much more visual. All you have to do is select some text and drag it to your desktop. When you do this OSX automatically creates a text file on your desktop containing the text. Taking that on a step, you can do the same with images and many other types of information. Compare that to the process of saving text in Windows where you select the text, copy, go to your desktop, right clicking, new text file, rename the text file, open the text file, paste the text and then save it. If any one process sums up OSX when compared to Windows, its that one.

    Why not check out the second post in this series, 5 More OSX Hidden Gems.

    If you enjoyed this list, may I recommend this post on why OSX makes a great Web Development Platform and this one on Five things that make Quicksilver Awesome. You can also look at all the articles tagged as being about Apple.